Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
What Documents Should You Always Shred?
While most Americans only think about shredding documents during tax season, a healthy shredding schedule can be one of the easiest ways to prevent identity theft.
Your bills, account statements, and even junk mail can be a goldmine for identity thieves. With these documents they can take out loans in your name, steal your medical benefits, and commit all types of identity theft.
But what documents need to be shredded and destroyed? And when?
In this guide, we’ll explain what documents you should shred, which ones to keep (and for how long), and how to secure your sensitive documents and mail from criminals.
Why Do You Need to Shred Mail, Bills, and Documents?
Identity thieves need less information than you’d think to steal your identity. A credit card statement, lost or stolen ID, or discarded job application can give them access to your financial or personal accounts.
But while many criminals have moved their scams online, many still steal mail and sensitive documents.
Watch: How one man lost over $93,000 after a check was stolen from his mailbox →
Shredding ensures that your sensitive information can’t be accessed by identity thieves. Even if they steal your shredded documents, it’s not worth it for them to try to piece them back together.
As a general rule, you should always shred unneeded documents that contain your Social Security number (SSN), signature, account numbers, phone number, birthdate, passwords, PINs, and full address.
What Documents Should You Always Shred (and When)?
The majority of your sensitive mail and personal documents should be either shredded or securely stored. But there are different rules and guidelines to follow based on the types of document, their uses, and even laws and regulations.
Here’s a guide on what documents to shred now, in the near future, or never.
- Sales receipts
- ATM receipts
- Utility bills (after paying them)
- Insurance offers
- Credit or credit card offers
- Unwanted credit card applications or pre-approved cards
- Canceled checks
- Expired warranties
- Documents with a signature that you no longer need
- Old driver’s licenses, credit cards, and IDs
All of these documents contain personal information that a criminal could use for identity theft. But they’re not the only ones that need to be shredded.
There are other less obvious documents that you should be sure to shred as soon as possible, including:
- Boarding passes or airline tickets. As soon as you land, destroy your boarding pass as it contains your name, travel itinerary, and a barcode that can reveal your frequent-flier number and other sensitive information. Also, be sure not to post photos of your boarding pass to social media.
- Prescription labels. Criminals can use the label stapled to your Rx bag or on the bottle to commit medical identity theft and steal your healthcare benefits.
- Pet medical documents. One in three pet owners in America have used their pet’s name as a password [*]. Store any major vet documents in a secure location and be sure to shred the rest.
- Return labels. If you get a free return label with a package, shred it. These contain your name and address, which criminals can use for a change-of-address scam.
- Resumes. Unused resumes can provide scammers with your contact information and employment history. That’s more than enough for them to steal your identity or apply for benefits in your name.
- Birth and death announcements. Child identity theft is on the rise while the identities of more than 2 million deceased Americans are used to apply for loans, file taxes, and open credit card accounts every year. Shred any documents that contain information about children or the deceased — especially Social Security numbers.
Shred after 30–60 days:
- Pay stubs (after checking them against your W-2)
- Checks deposited through mobile apps
- Credit card bills (after paying them)
Shred within one year:
- Bank account statements and anything with banking account information
- Undisputed medical bills (that have been paid)
- Bills you’ve kept for tax or warranty purposes
- Old versions of your Social Security statements, insurance policy statements, and retirement plan statements
Shred after seven years:
- Tax-related receipts
- Tax forms and tax records
- Tax-related documents such as canceled checks
- W-2s and 1099s
- Records for tax deductions taken
- Investment records (shred seven years after you’ve sold the securities or closed the investment account)
- Checks from charitable donations
Shred once the item is sold or the issue is resolved:
In some cases, you’ll want to keep important documents until a specific event has passed. For example, you can shred any car titles for vehicles you no longer own (but should keep them while you’re driving the car).
Here are some other situations where you should keep sensitive documents until a certain time:
- Home titles and deeds. Keep these as long as you own the property, but be sure to store them in a secure location. Criminals with access to your home title can steal your equity, remortgage your home, or even rent or sell it without your knowledge. For peace of mind, consider signing up for a home title monitoring service like Identity Guard.
- Vehicle titles and insurance policies. Keep these as long as you own and are driving the vehicle. Again, keep these secure as there are all sorts of car title scams that you could fall victim to if someone steals your vehicle title.
- Disputed medical bills. Keep these until the issue is resolved and you’ve been refunded (or have a written statement saying you’re no longer responsible for the debt). Make sure to securely store any legal documents related to the dispute as well.
- Home improvement receipts. Keep these until you sell your home and use them to calculate the capital gains taxes you owe.
- Some sales receipts. For major appliances or other similar purchases, keep the receipt for the durations of the extended warranty.
- Rental agreements or leases. Keep these until you move out of the home and have been refunded any deposits you gave to the landlord.
What Documents Do You Need to Keep Forever?
Some documents need to be kept forever — especially ones related to major life milestones, such as birth, marriage, citizenship, adoption, or death.
Why keep all of these records?
First, you’ll want easy access to them in case you need them in an emergency. And second, they’re a pain to replace and contain enough sensitive information to lead to identity theft if they go missing.
Make sure to keep these in a secure location where they can’t be easily accessed — even by family members.
Here’s a list of documents that you should keep forever:
- Birth certificates for yourself and your family
- Social Security cards
- Marriage certificates and divorce decrees
- Citizenship papers or green cards
- Pension plan documents
- Adoption papers
- Death certificates
- Business licenses
- Academic records including diplomas and transcripts
- Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
- Military records
- Medical records
- Documents related to your home purchase or sale
- Annual account statements for active retirement or investment accounts
Tax Season Shredding Guide: What To Shred and What To Keep
Tax season is when most people start thinking about shredding documents. And for good reason. They’ve held onto receipts and bills and other documents to file their taxes. But what should you do with them after?
First, let’s talk about audits.
Typically, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has three years after you file your taxes to initiate an audit (or three years after the due date). Plan on keeping any supporting documents for at least those three years before shredding them.
However, there are situations where you might need to keep specific documents for up to six years.
Here’s a basic rundown of your tax-season shredding schedule:
1 year retention time
One year after you file your taxes you should be able to shred:
- Pay stubs
- Monthly brokerage statements
3 year retention time
After three years, it should be safe to shred:
- Tax returns
- W-2 forms
- 1099 and 1098 forms
- Receipts from charitable donations
- Contributions to your ITA and other tax-deductible retirement savings accounts
6 year retention time
If you file your tax return and fail to report more than 25% of your gross income, the IRS can still audit you up to 6 years after you file your taxes.
In this situation, you'll want to wait the full six years before shredding:
- W-2 forms
- 1099 forms
- All receipts and business expenses from the past 6 years
After keeping any tax-related documents for seven years, you can safely shred them.
The Best Ways To Destroy Sensitive Documents
- Secure shredding services. These companies will either come to you or offer pick-up and drop-off services for your sensitive documents and old hard drives. Make sure you choose a reputable company that provides you with a “certificate of destruction” afterwards. If you’re at all unsure, search the company’s name on the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
- Home shredders. While not as secure, you can also buy a paper shredder to use at home. These shredders can usually also handle old credit cards, CDs, and DVDs.
- Scissors. If you have nothing else available, use scissors to cut up documents and destroy account or card numbers. This is the least secure method available. However, it's still better than recycling or trashing your bills and documents.
How To Protect Your Identity from Scammers
Shredding is only one of the many ways that you can protect yourself from identity theft.
To keep your and your family’s identities safe from fraudsters, follow these steps:
Go paperless for your bills and account statements
From 2017 to the end of 2020, mail theft soared by more than 600%, according to data from the Postal Inspection Service [*].
Switch your bank and other sensitive accounts to online statements. While scammers can still find ways to hack your email, it’s much harder than stealing your mail or rummaging through your garbage.
Secure your online accounts with 2FA and a password manager
Unfortunately, scammers can still access your bills and account information online if they hack your account, scam you with a phishing attack, or buy your passwords on the Dark Web.
For added security, make your online accounts as secure as possible by:
- Using unique and complex passwords. Use passwords that are at least eight characters long and use a combination of letters, cases, numbers, and symbols.
- Enabling 2FA and using an authenticator app. Two-factor authentication is an additional security measure that requires a one-time-use code along with your password. You should be able to enable this on all sensitive accounts. But avoid having your 2FA codes sent over SMS. Instead, use an authenticator app like Authy or Google.
- Storing your passwords in a secure password manager. These tools store all your passwords in a secure location so you never have to worry about forgetting them. A password manager will also warn you if an account has potentially been compromised and prompt you to update your password.
Don’t leave mail in your mailbox (or get a secure mailbox)
A full mailbox is a calling card for identity thieves. Make sure you collect your mail as soon as possible. If you’re going away on vacation, have someone collect it for you. Or better yet, invest in a secure mailbox.
Keep copies of critical documents
It might seem counterintuitive to keep multiple copies of sensitive documents (as it makes them easier to steal). However, for unique documents such as your passport or birth certificate, it’s a good idea to keep the originals locked away and use copies when needed. A copy of a passport is much less valuable to an identity thief than the real thing.
For digital documents, keep them on a hard drive in a secure location such as a fireproof safe.
Sign up for identity theft protection
Even if you do everything you can to protect your documents, criminals will always look for new ways to scam you.
Identity Guard constantly monitors your financial and online accounts and sensitive information such as your SSN for signs of fraud. This way, you’ll know in near real-time if someone has gained access to your accounts and can shut them down.
And even if the worst should happen, Identity Guard has you covered with a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.